Happy Ides of March! Yesterday, Brad A. Latilla-Campbell ’16 notified me of yet another G&S reference he’d found in The West Wing. Clearly, Aaron Sorkin is a fellow Savoyard. Coincidentally, our blog post this week also features a Gilbert & Sullivan cultural reference, albeit of a … vastly different medium.


Written by Ned Sanger

1868-skirt-lengths-girl-ages-harpers-bazar
Harper’s Bazaar c. 1900

Gilbert and Sullivan show their plump faces all over. I ran into them just recently in a rather unexpected place: chapter five of Ulysses. Leopold Bloom, the book’s protagonist and a cuckold, is perambulating around Dublin when he happens to spot a lady across the street. She is about to get into a cab and he knows she will need to lift her dress when she does it, allowing naughty Bloom to catch a glimpse of her silk stockings, or perhaps even a slice of upper-calf if he is lucky. Promptly he sidles into a better vantage point and focuses his attention—“Silk flash rich stockings white. Watch!”—but his efforts are all for naught: at the very moment of the grand reveal, with Bloom just about ready to combust, a tramcar rounds the corner, obstructs his view, obscures the calf, and deprives him of his peeping pleasures. “Paradise and the peri,” he wails, before slogging the rest of the dreary way to church: “Always happens like that.”

“Paradise and the peri”? A few bookworms have argued that this is a recondite reference to none other than the operetta Iolanthe; or, the Peer and the Peri. The theory is that Bloom, feeling rather guilty about trying to “peer” at some calves, blocks the very word subconsciously and consequently bungles the title—hence “paradise.” As for why a failed attempt to glimpse some silk stockings would cause a person to think about Gilbert and Sullivan—well is an explanation needed? Fans of Gilbert and Sullivan know from experience that those snickering Victorian pranksters tend, at the most unexpected moments, to leap out of their irrelevancy and prance about in front of the mind’s eye while singing into the mind’s ear. In Bloom’s reveries, they probably wear lady’s silk stockings while they do it.

The Sorcerer opens on March 24th, however, so soon all of us will have a way to enjoy Gilbert and Sullivan much less embarrassing than Bloom’s. It’s going to be a great production, full of old charms and new twists, so fetch your opera glasses, your opera clothes, your several opera flasks, and begin making your way to the Agassiz—we’re almost ready for you.

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